Smiling and Dialing


NextPlans new service featured in CE Magazine

Construction Estimators Magazine

NextCall was launched in June of this year as a call service built in to the pre-construction module of NextPlans. Estimators can identify where they have not gotten good initial response and prompt the call service by trades needed for that project. Local call center representatives then contact subs on behalf of the General Contractor to determine whether or not the subcontractor is going to bid the project. That information is then put back into the bidder call report in NextPlans for the estimator to review and have for future evaluation.

Construction Estimating Magazine sat down with Stephanie Hinson a Program Manager for NextPlans to discuss the service and it's progress

CE Magazine: NextCall was launched in June, but just now seems to be gaining strides, what's changed?

Stephanie: We worked hard to promote the service to our existing clients and through that marketing and inner soul searching by our clients we have really picked up momentum these last 2 months.

CE Magazine: What do you mean when you say inner soul searching by your clients?

Stephanie: There were a few concerns or obstacles we needed to overcome:
1) Clients were concerned that there would be scope specific questions that a sub would want answered that we wouldn't be
able to.
2) Many clients were tasking these initial call responsibilities to their entry level estimators or estimating assistants
3) It would take away from the personal touch of calling a sub yourself for their pricing.

CE Magazine: How are you addressing or have you addressed these concerns?

Stephanie: We custom prepare the call script with our clients before calling subs. So far the script has been fairly consistent between our clients using the service. We ask the sub if he is interested in bidding "project x" If he/she says "yes" we update the reporting and include any additional comments. If they say "no" we ask if they can expand on their "no" response and we
update that information in the reporting as well. Any scope questions we refer them back to the invitation and the estimator for the project from our GC client.

CE Magazine: What about concerns 2 and 3?

Stephanie: These concerns are where the real inner soul searching comes into play. Our clients have to feel like the calls they need to be made aren't being made. A lot of money can be spent in pre-construction before the GC even has the job so they really have to evaluate their time & cost versus the NextCall service. If you can put together pricing on 2 projects in the time it would ordinarily take you to do 1 it seems like a good fit. You aren't wasting any time calling for clarification of bid intention, you are calling to answer scope questions, sway someone off of the "Undecided" list, or follow-up on a quote that's due.

CE Magazine: So, no personal touch gets lost from using the NextCall service?

Stephanie: None what-so-ever. If you look at it like a sales pipeline, we are warming the leads. An estimator will know who to call to give that personal touch too. A good example we see a lot of; "Not sure yet", "We have a lot going on", "Please have the estimator contact me". These are people on the fence where personal touch is needed. Senior estimators can better train entry level estimators by immediately being able to go into in depth conversation with a prospective subcontractor.

CE Magazine: Is there any other information an estimator should know about the service?

Stephanie: Definitely. We find a lot of times after the call service has been requested on a project that a lot of the contact information in the GC database is outdated. We update the information, and resend the invitation for the client. That information is then entered into the reporting interface for their reference.


Contact: Christopher Franchi, Regional Manager - NextPlans

Resources and time are critical from one construction project to the next. Every business aspires to utilize limited resources in order to produce or execute an efficient and cost-effective operation. True to form, a big percentage of total cost on construction projects is allocated to time and administration. Document control is an area of admin that begins at the onset of a project, and lasts long after the tools are collected off a job-site. For instance, architectural firms may base 35-45% of their fee on the time exhausted on managing construction documents alone, and another 25-30% on administration during the construction phase according to the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada. Likewise, the Houston Chronicle reports that engineering fees breakdown to final design services and paperwork at 45 percent and construction administration at 20 percent. Subsequently, Project Close out is the last major phase of a project's life cycle where collecting, completing, and archiving project documents is one of the most significant in terms of time and resources used.

It would seem that since document administration is a relatively known and necessary issue to tackle during a construction project that there would be many more tools out there catering to the needs of small and large contractors, design firms, and engineers. The concern is clear... a construction firm, in whatever capacity, builds buildings. Their wheelhouse is not document control, nor should it be. In the face of this dilemma, companies turn to the abundance of technology drowning the marketplace in one file sharing service after another. The hope, is to get on board the digital revolution and assuage some of these trivial troubles. In reality, what happens is the opposite. Lean construction takes a back seat to loading up office engineers and field staff with resources that simply drain more and more of an employee's billable time. Valuable time that could be devoted to greater efficiency of the construction itself, not towards quality control, indexing, and naming of the document packages that are issued for the project; Not towards the collection of information from Subs, and the distribution of information to project participants.

Did you know that the IRS offers tax tips that state a construction company can deduct General & Administrative indirect costs? These costs are those associated with running the company, but not tied to a specific job. In that case, wouldn't it be nice to have an added general administration service that saves both your employees time, labor, and cuts down on direct costs that are currently being utilized on a job, while creating added financial benefits for the company?

Many web-based tools on the market merely create more cumbersome processes, and take an abundance of time to navigate and provide the appropriate end user support. Isn't this just what construction managers don't want? What's missing from all of these systems is the human element. These technologies are propositioned as a solution when really they only increase the burden on what may very well be a busy and overworked staff already.

The NextPlans system is one of few that it is completely designed for the construction industry alone and is a tremendous solution for this over-reaching problem. It provides total accountability, quality control, reliability, and efficiency when it comes to document control procedures. It simply integrates with a company's current business practices in order to deliver the most effective execution of project administration from pre-construction to Close out, facilitating the admin so you don't have to. Incorporated within this, is a team of professionals that are completely focused on end user support and outstanding service.

Interview with a Construction Manager

Are you wasting time with technology?
We were recently onsite with a project team from a US Top 10 Healthcare Construction Management Firm.

This project team has a multi-project contract with an owner that will run for the next 5 years. This project team is responsible for pre-construction and operations for each project. Our goal was to get a complete understanding of how their cloud-based technology infrastructure was benefitting their job site team for pre-construction and project management collaboration.

We sat down with two members of the team that had built a document management folder structure on a cloud based program called Box. This solution included an extensive folder structure with access to information such as RFIs, Submittals, Progress Sets, and even bid documents for each project. They were accessing the information via their iPads and bringing up on dual big screen TVs in their job site trailer.

Read the interview below to see how suprised we were to see that this system has actually created bottlenecks in their workflow and actually decreased their efficiency.

NP: First, let's talk Pre-construction. One of our most frequently heard pains is that it simply takes too much time to contact the subs to find out whether they intend to bid a project. How do you solicit subs?

A: We add the subs email addresses manually to Box and send them a link to the project files.

NP: How many subs per trade do you invite?

A: We try to invite 5 to 8 subs per trade but have to make sure we can find that many. Often times because we are relatively new to the market we have to use other resources to find those subs.

NP: How do you know if a sub intends to bid a project?

A: We can see if they previewed the documents or downloaded them through the reporting in Box.

NP: If they've previewed the project, does that confirm that they are going to bid?
A: No, We have to call all the subs in the critical trades and most of the other trades depending on how our coverage looks already.

NP: How do you document bidding intentions in Box?

A: We track responses in Excel. We input the information manually.

NP: That sounds like a headache. How much time do you spend making these phone calls and tracking these responses?

A: On the last project we spent two weeks on the phone with subs.

Does this sound familiar? If so, check out our Bid Reminder Services at NextPlans. One easy set up allows you to send automatic reminders to your subs on any schedule you choose. Our tests have show that this service drastically reduces time spent on phone calls and increases response rates by as much as 500%.

We continued our discussion, moving on to their method (using Box) for project document management and collaboration.

NP: Your folder structure is very organized and detailed for storing documentation during the construction process. How do you use it to exchange information between project team members?
A: We actually just share information with team members through our site.

NP: Can those team members share information back to you through the site (Designers, consultants, subs, owners)?

A: No. Mostly information is sent to us via email from project team members and then we log it in Box.

NP: Is Box, then, more of an internal mechanism for you to store information?

A: Storing and sending out information at this point. We have been unable to fully collaborate through the system.

NP: Speaking of collaboration, can all participants annotate and comment within Box on project information?

A: No, we actually use Bluebeam to annotate. I am sure that others annotate within their own mark-up tools or mark-up hard copies.

NP: So, without a fully integrated file exchange system and a check-in/check-out annotation process because all project team members are using different annotation tools, you are not really collaborating in Box?

A: No, I think the benefit is more for us internally at this time.

NP: We noticed that you have standard sheet names on the drawings, do you have to keep a drawing log for the project?
A: Yes, we keep a drawing log and track the information in our Construction Management software.

NP: Who is responsible for the file naming of drawings and specifications?

A: We do that before we upload the information to Box.

NP: How much time does that take?
A: It depends on the amount of information that has to be named. The more documents, the more time it takes to name them.

NP: On a multi project contract, how do you anticipate managing all of this in addition to you other responsibilities once you have more than one active job.

A: We anticipate bringing in an Office Engineer or two if it becomes too much to handle.

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Flatten Your Digital Annotations!

Why Flattening PDFs is Important?

Digital annotations are no longer a thing of the future, but understanding how to use them effectively may still provide a learning curve for the AEC market. AEC firms can spin up a pdf from Autodesk products, they can add digital stamps or mark-ups in things like Bluebeam or Adobe Pro, but not too often are we taking that extra step of flattening the pdf. PDF files can contain two types of information graphics or annotations. Graphics files like images, text, etc. are considered static. Stamps, digital mark-ups, sticky notes are all considered annotations that are typically associated with a graphic.

Annotations contain some interactive features and can be very useful in certain situations, but in scenarios like submittal processing or change order request it is imperative to flatten the pdf and turn your annotations static on the document. Without flattening annotated pdfs there is no insurance that all annotations will be visible to participants on their work-stations or mobile devices. In instances where you are using an app to access marked up information after the fact, it is almost a certainty that annotations will not appear if the file has not been flattened before sharing. This can create considerable issues when trying to create a digital work-flow for COR (change order requests) or submittals during a project.

Certain programs like BlueBeam provide you with the option to flatten annotations within their program so that the additional layer that you have created is visible to all project participants regardless of the device or pc being used to review the information. If you are doing your annotations in Adobe, I am providing you with a link to a plug-in that not only allows you to flatten your annotations but it also allows you to get mark-up specific as to what you would like to flatten. This way you can have both interactive and static annotations, but more importantly insure that your comments are visible on any mobile device, app, or workstation for any user.

Click here to read about and/or download the free Adobe plug-in:

Alternatively, Adobe provides this "action" below that can be installed as a plugin to your version of Acrobat that will flatten all of your annotations.